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Diets & Weight loss,  Fitness Motivation

Gut Bacteria And Weight Loss: Can Intestinal Bacteria Make Us Fat?

Gut bacteria and weight loss

We have all met them, the people who can eat everything and remain stick thin, and those who simply look at food and gain weight. It seems there is a good reason for this, and it lies in our gut.

The intestine is linked to numerous processes that take place in our body. But now, researchers have noticed that the intestinal flora can vary greatly between an obese person and a thinner person

Our intestine contains about 100 billion microbes, which are collectively known as a microbiome or intestinal flora.

There are no two people with the same microbiomes. So when it comes to the battle of the bulge how important is gut bacteria to weight loss? Today we will be answering this, plus giving you some tips on improving your gut bacteria naturally.



Gut flora origins

Intestinal flora, or gut flora, is the result of what we inherited from our mother at birth, our diet, our environment and lifestyle.

It is well established that the intestine plays a role in numerous systems of our body, including those linked to digestion, hunger and satiety and multiple other mechanisms.

But, now, researchers are beginning to discover specific differences between the microbiomes of the obese people and thin people. Based on this, they are now developing  personalized treatments to lose weight based on these findings.

There are hundreds of differences in the human genome that predispose us to obesity – which increases the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes, a problem that is increasing in most countries of the world.

Studies with twins have shown that obesity has a heritability index of between 40% and 75%.

This means that there is room for external factors to come into play.

However, while differences in the gut bacteria can influence weight loss, scientists still do not know why, or even how much it depends on genes.



Different gut bacteria

It’s a fact, some dieters have a harder time losing weight than others. They may follow the same steps, and do the same exercises, yet their weight loss is far slower. In cases like these, the slower weight may be due to bacteria in the intestines .

Specifically, this could be due to the enzymes they have inside them.

Gut Bacteria And Weight Loss

Some intestinal bacteria are more efficient when it comes to taking energy from carbohydrates, and this makes it easier to gain weight.

“What we eat comes to us and to the bacteria in our gut, which digest some of the food that we cannot process due to a lack of enzymes,” explains Purna Kashyap, associate professor at the Mayo Clinic, and director of the Gut Microbioma laboratory.

“These processes generate extra calories that the intestinal flora can give us back, and that is why it is a mutually beneficial relationship in which the bacteria benefit us more from what we eat,” he says.

Kashyap researched if switching to a low-calorie diet would make the bacteria in the microbiota more efficient in taking calories from food. This would be useful when there is little food, but would certainly affect weight loss.


Research into gut bacteria and weight loss

There were 26 participants gathered for a pilot study. They all did a low-calorie diet rich in fruits and vegetables. As expected, some people did not lose as much weight as others.

After analyzing there intestinal flora, it was revealed that the participants had two different levels of a particular bacteria. It was this bacteria, called dialister, that negatively impacted weight loss.

In the people who struggled to lose weight, this bacteria processed carbohydrates and use their energy more efficiently, states Kashyap.

That beings said, he clarified, only a small portion of the weight loss is  controlled by these microbes .

Kashyap goes on to say;

“It makes sense from the biological point of view that bacteria can be an impediment, but they can play a small role since they only produce a small number of calories.”



The importance of bacterial diversity

While studies cannot determine where the Dialister bacteria originated from, research has reveled that certain bacteria from our diet can may increase weight by changing the behavior of our gut flora.

Researchers analyzed stool samples and blood plasma from 600 obese and non-obese people. It was found that there were 19 different metabolites linked to four types of intestinal flora bacteria, each potentially generating weight gain.

Some of these include;  branched-chain amino acids essential (BCAA), associated with a high insulin secretion, risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and glutamate which is linked to obesity.

These metabolites in the gut are partly connected to the consumption of meat , according to researcher Louise Brunkwall.

Gut Bacteria And Weight Loss and meat
intestinal flora bacteria, each potentially generating weight gain linked to meat consumption


Tomato is a food that, in some people, can cause a marked rise in your blood sugar level. (Photo: Getty)

Brunkwall suggest research needs to focus on modifying the composition of the microbiome to reduce the risk of obesity, as well as understanding what healthy microbiome is and what change its bacterial composition.

What has been established is how important it is to have diverse intestinal flora, with many types of bacteria.



Antibiotics and gut microbiome

Pedersen and his team studied the intestinal flora of 169 obese adults and 123 non-obese people.

This studies showed that 23% of those who had a lack of diversity in gut microbiome were more likely to be obese. 

These individuals also had a higher rate of insulin resistance and blood fat. These factors can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

All the obese participants with little bacterial diversity in the microbiota, gained much more weight over a nine year period.

Why some people  have more diversity in gut microbiome compared to others is still unknown. Pedersen suggests that multiple treatments with antibiotics may have contributed to a loss of bacteria that was never fully recovered.

It is also not known for certain if the diversity of bacteria is the cause of weight gain. However, evidence has shown that the microbiome can influence metabolism.

How do I make my gut bacteria more diverse?

But there is some good news. Research discovered that you can increase the diversity of bacteria in the intestinal flora by increasing fiber intake .

Ana Valdés, author of the study and associate professor at the University of Nottingham UK explains how essential fiber is.

When we consume fibers, our intestines break these into short chain fatty acids. These include; butyrate, an anti-inflammatory linked to leanness and a lower incidence of inflammatory diseases.

How intestinal bacteria make us gain weight or lose weight
Recent research revealed that fiber can contribute to a more diverse microbiome. (Photo: Getty)
“If people with type 2 diabetes follow a diet rich in fiber, you can reduce the status of their diabetes and increase butyrate production,” she says.

“People with a more diverse microbiome and who ingest more fiber have less insulinogenic diets (which consist of foods that produce less glucose peaks and insulin), and probably spend more energy.”

“We have to put this to the test, but the gut bacteria could turn fiber into substances that modulate insulin sensitivity and the energy of metabolism.”



Christensenella bacteria

One of the most exciting studies on gut bacteria and weight loss has has been focused on the bacterium christensenella minuta .

Around 97% of us have detectable levels of this bacteria within our intestinal flora. However, christensenella has been found in higher levels with thinner people .

In research for hereditary factors of intestinal microbes, christensenella was the first on the list. It was found in microbiomes of people worldwide, from a very young  age.


Christensenella bacteria
Some people have more difficulty than others to lose weight even if they are dieting, and that may be because of the bacteria in their intestines. (Photo: Getty)

Researchers transplanted a microbiome associated with obesity into a group of mice. After this, they introduced christensenella, and found that this protected them from gaining weight.

Since genetics represent about 40% of christensenella, it is not known where the other 60% comes from. However, researchers estimate that it is likely from our diet and lifestyle.




How to increase good bacteria in gut naturally

Vegetables from the sunflower family (artichokes, radicchio, lettuce, tarragon, chicory and salsify) and the lily family (leeks, chives, shallots, onions, garlic and asparagus) are particularly helpful to gut bacteria.

What you eat isn’t just nutrition for you, it also feeds the trillions of bacteria that live in your gut.

Every person is different, but if you want to improve your digestion, lose weight or look after your general health, there are some broad principles that apply to all.

Easy tips for gut health

  1. As we’ve mentioned eat more fibre. A lot of people much eat less fibre than they should. Some good souces are vegetables, fruits pulses, nuts and wholegrains. All of these will feed good bacteria in the gut.
  2. A wide range of plant-based foods will increase the diversity of microbes in the gut, since these all prefer different different foods.
  3. Limit your consumption of highly processed foods. Often these have  ingredients that either increase bad bacteria or suppress ‘good’ bacteria.
  4. Probiotic foods, such as kefir and live yoghurt could help more microbes to grow. 
  5. Go for extra-virgin olive oil instead of other fats. This has the highest number of microbe-friendly polyphenols.
  6. Antibiotics will kill off ‘bad’ bacteria as well as the ‘good’. If you have used antibiotics replace the lost ‘good’ bacteria with foods that boost your microbes afterwards.
  7. A sudden increase of fibre, especially after eating fibre poor foods for a while, may cause gas. So to avoid the discomfort and embarrasement, increase your fibre gradually.


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As a Certified Fitness Nutrition Specialist with a Diploma in Human Nutrition. Over the years, Dee has helped clients reach their personal fitness and health goals; the most prominent being weight loss and the attainment of lean muscle mass. Her personal motto when it comes to weight loss, and fitness is: "Don't make it harder than it has to be"

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